We are at Lavaash by Saby, which, in the chef’s own words, is the “fruit of his lost nostalgic past”.
For the life of him, Sabyasachi Gorai could not figure out why so many Japanese girls gushed over his portly companion who had hair almost till his eyes. It was a short business trip to the land of sushi, sashimi and child-porn comics. The good chef and his Sardar business partner were having a quiet drink in the evening when a gang of five underage girls attacked the Sardar at a tony nightclub. Attacked is the right word, Gorai insists. “One held one arm of my friend, the other the other arm and the rest…well…let’s just say that the Sardar had a tough time setting himself free,” he smiles.
It was much later that Gorai remembered Japanese boys have almost no body hair, and for those drunk, underage girls at the club, the portly Sardar from west Delhi, with hair till his eyes and ears, was as kinky as it gets.
We are at Lavaash by Saby, which, in the chef’s own words, is the “fruit of his lost nostalgic past”. It’s a quiet afternoon, there’s a hint of summer in the air but winter’s not over yet, and beautiful people are around us, savouring Bengali-Armenian delicacies that Saby has on offer while sipping fine wine. A squirrel plays hide-and-seek on wicker chairs in the open verandah as Saby and I set sail on a sea of stories.
“Lavaash (the bread) is a word that has found a permanent spot in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list (incidentally the only fooditem to make it to that list from around the world). A word that goes so deep not just into the food history of the world, but also the culture that Armenia had to offer. Till date, we are baking Lavash at Kashmir in traditional tonirs after so many centuries. This restaurant is my small effort to tell a story as beautiful and age-old as Armenia, rather the history of Armenians in West Bengal,” Saby says.
Saby grew up in Asansol, a small town steeped in Armenian influence, around the then-thriving bakeries, the churches and the graveyards, playing with the Armenian boys, under the tutelage of the elegant and well-spoken principal of AG Church School, Mrs Aedinnangze (“It was rumoured that she had all the 26 letters of the English language in her name.”) Those memories came flooding back when Saby picked up a book written by his father Sakti Gorai, a scholar and researcher, called 100 years of Coal Mining History. The twin towns of Asansol and Durgapur, and neighbouring suburbs Kulty and Raniganj, came back to Saby, and with them the whiff of the many Armenian dishes. The idea of Lavaash germinated thus. The year was 2015, the cen-tenary year of the Armenian genocide.
“While assimilating the Armenian story I have also taken influences of other foreign settlers in Bengal like the Portuguese and the French. My grandmom’s cook book from 1938 passed on to my mom and my mom’s hand-written recipe notes have also done their bit in finalising the Lavaash menu. Traditional Armenian food is not available anywhere and it took me a lot of research to get this right,” says Saby. I don’t say anything to that, I don’t need to, as I can’t stop eating and ordering for more. So what next for this ex-director of kitchens at Olive Bar & Kitchen, who has a cult following among food lovers?
“A clothing line-utility wear, you know. Denim and khadi. Clothes that are easy on the eye. Also, helmets, gloves, eye gears. The works,” he says. We will wait for that.